After years of effort by the city's gay community, workers in Omaha, Neb., will soon be protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity, following a narrow vote Tuesday to approve such legislation.
The win didn't come easy. Omaha's city council voted 4-3 in favor of the ordinance, which adds sexual orientation and transgender status to the municipal law that already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion and marital status.
Those against the bill spoke vehemently against adding the new language, often citing their religious views.
As the website LGBTQ Nation reports, several residents testified against the measure during a tense public hearing last week. The opponents told the council that the protections based on gender identity would open the door to having men dressing as women in public places, which would harm children and put women at risk for sexual assault.
Ultimately, however, those in favor of the legislation prevailed, after one council member changed his vote. A similar vote last year ended in a 3-3 vote, with one member abstaining.
"It's an important and big step for Omaha to take. Is it overdue? Sure. But Omaha usually isn't in the forefront of these issues," Craig Moody of Voice Omaha told Reuters. The group is part of the Equal Omaha coalition that has championed passage of the ordinance.
In approving the legislation, which takes effect in two weeks, Omaha joins 35 of the nation's 50 largest cities that have similar legislation banning workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Omaha TV station WOWT reports.
Large cities that lack such protections include Nashville, Tenn., Raleigh, N.C., and Phoenix, advocates of Omaha's measure noted.
LGBTQ Nation says that some political observers view the vote as significant not only for Omaha but also for Nebraska -- one of the nation's most conservative states.
Immediately after the vote Tuesday, supporters of the bill lingered outside the council chambers to celebrate, the Omaha World-Herald reports.
One woman held up a T-shirt with a rainbow shamrock that said, "Kiss Me, I'm Gay-lish." People hugged, cried and shared wedding-day smiles, according to the newspaper.
Those celebrations may be a bit premature. Media reports note that opponents of the measure are exploring efforts to place a repeal measure on the ballot next year and there may be legal challenges ahead, as well.
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